Category: Travel Blog (page 1 of 3)

Rivendell Trout Estate-Mpumalanga

When it comes to fresh water fly fishing in South Africa, towns like Belfast, Dullstroom, Machadadorp and Lydenburg, all in Mpumalanga province, are the busiest locations in the country. This is of course largely due to their proximity to Gauteng and the growing population there looking to get out of the hustle and bustle of the “big smoke” and enjoy some leisure time in the country.

Trout were introduced to this area early in the 20th century and have played a vital role in tourism and attendant job creation ever since. A drive along the Mpumalanga Highlands Meander and the myriad accommodation options bear testament to this.
 
As trout are unable breed in still water, stocking of fish into dams (and rivers) from nearby hatcheries is common practice and thus an important economic contributor in its own right.


 
There are however streams and rivers in the higher catchment areas where Trout can breed and proliferate, although even they are generally stocked as well. One of these is the Spekboom River with its source in the Mount Anderson Water Catchment Reserve near Lydenburg, an important initiative given that this source water ultimately feeds the Kruger National Park. Within the reserve are a number of upmarket properties, all of which offer fly fishing to their guests. Included among these is Rivendell Trout Estate, where acclaimed angler Jeremy Rochester and I recently spent a few happy days exploring what they have to offer.


 
After buying the property in a fairly run -down state 3 years ago, the owners Angus and Jenny Brown, have clearly been working tirelessly to re-establish Rivendell as a premiere holiday and trout fishing destination. The serviced self -catering accommodation there is superb, consisting of 2 four bedroom villas all en-suite with large kitchens and living areas, log fires and elevated decks overlooking the river and onto the adjacent mountains.


 
The Spekboom River at this time of year (July) is gin clear and cold, a perfect habitat for Trout, but this does mean that the fish are able to see you coming and can therefore be skittish, so stealth is required to get results. Jerry managed to catch fish on nymphs, streamers and dry fly all in one day, while I found my dries going unhindered and only really had success on larger streamer patterns, a white beaded zonker being the most successful. As always, sight fishing to your quarry remains the most exciting form of fly fishing and conditions meant this was the case in almost all instances. The fish were not big, up to around 1 kg, but once hooked were remarkably frisky and loath to come to the net. Between us we caught and released around 18 fish in 2 days.

As a family holiday destination Rivendell would take some beating. Besides the fantastic accommodation, there are lovely walks or mountain bike trails, with a number of antelope and other species in attendance, as well as great birding.

Add this to the solitude, clear mountain air and sight fishing for plump Trout which can be spotted off your viewing deck, and you really need look no further….

 

Fishing Report – Sardine Run 2018

The Sardine run has started with a bang!

Normally the Sardine Run begins with lots of gannet activity, then tons of dolphins and whale, sightings before the arrival of the silver fish. This year has been the opposite way around. The sardines arrived before the birds, dolphins and whales. Perhaps that is because this year’s run is shaping up to be a bumper one, and while the birds, dolphins and whales accompany the bulk of the sardines, still holding off the wild coast, the pilot shoals have stolen the limelight on the South coast.

Sharks have accompanied some of the shoals, with plenty of large fins being seen right in the shore break at times. Shark anglers have had a ball tossing baits to these monsters, and then buckling up for the fight of their lives. While some beauties have been landed, there are also many tales of broken tackle and wrecked egos.

While the shad have been their usual elusive selves, appearing at times, then disappearing again, they have been around enough to head up the menu in many households already this season. Game fish such as Garrick, kingfish and queen mackerel have also been caught along with the sardines, by those faithful who work the water with spoons and plugs from the beaches and rocks.

The offshore game fish have been predictably difficult to catch, with so much natural food on offer. Ski boat anglers at this time of year make amends by enjoying the arrival of geelbek and Dagga Salmon.

 

 

With such a bumper run in the offing, the Inside Angling crew has been racing up and down the coast, along with the beach sein netters, and the rest of the population, trying to experience the full impact of the frenzy that the annual run brings.

Return To Zambezi

The Zambezi River… known for its natural beauty breathtaking sunsets and a certain piscatory canine that inhabits its darkest corners. Anglers with rods of varying kinds annually flock to these waters all in search of one fish, a trophy Tigerfish.

Over the last two years, I have developed a love-hate relationship with big Tigerfish. When they sit on the bottom of a river with a toothy grin, barely moving and ignoring every last one of my flies, flies that took a lot of time and effort to prepare, I hate them. When they decide to have a taste of the hair and feathers pulled past their stuck up faces, only to spit it out a second later in a disrespectful “get that out of here” aerial display, I hate them.

But when stars align and they oblige by attacking those very same flies with vigour and intent and somehow you manage to keep them hooked until safely in the net. Then I love them more than anything else on earth.

On my very first visit to the Zambezi, there wasn’t a lot of love going around. For some reason the fishing was tough, but it wasn’t all the fishes fault, there was a lot of angler error that stemmed from frustration and impatience. When I got an invite to go back to the Zambezi for the second time, preparations started early and a lot of it was mental preparation.

I have been fortunate enough to fish for Tigers in a few different bodies of water, mostly smaller rivers with fast flowing currents and rapids but in the Zambezi, it’s a slightly different ball game. You only get a few chances at a big fish and you have to make those chances count. That means your knots need to be perfect on every tie up, you need to focus and be ready for the take, and whatever you do don’t trout strike!

All this is hard to put into practice when the chaos of Tiger fishing erupts. Possibly the hardest thing on earth is to keep your calm when a big angry dinosaur is jumping around trying to pull your rod from your hands, but if a trophy is what you are after, patience and composure is what you would need to conquer the beast.

So with my new found outlook on the Zambezi and its Tigers, I touched down with Airlink at Kasane airport ready to redeem myself. We were based at the beautiful Kaza Safari Lodge on Impalila island where Brett Macdonald’s team looked after our every need for the next 5 days. Trust me it’s not easy accommodating a film crew but the guys and girls at Kaza did a splendid job of hosting us. As fast as we could unpack and set up our gear we were out on the water and casting flies into the mighty African river. It’s always good to settle the early adrenaline and nerves with a few smaller fish in preparation for the big one and that is exactly what we did on day 1 and 2 of the hunt. We bagged a few fish ranging from two to four pounds and a few feisty six to eight pounders that put a good stretch in the line.

I started to feel a lot more confident and so, on the 3rd day, we decided to make the run up to Golden Pond, an area renowned for double-figure Tigers. We reached the pond after a cold hour and a half run from the lodge. It was “go” time and I immediately settled into a rhythm, a slow and steady retrieve keeping contact so when anything decided to eat I would be ready to tighten up and make sure the fish is hooked properly. Employing this technique yielded fewer bites but I was sure when something should eat, it would be a good fish.

The morning didn’t deliver much action but I maintained my confidence that I would get a good bite if I persevered. My patience soon paid off as we drifted into a strong reverse current created by a small channel draining into the main channel of the river. Birds were flocking to the area and everything about it looked fishy. A slow and steady retrieve, I started working the area and soon figured out the flow and how to get my fly down to where the currents converged. It didn’t take long for a bite and I was on with my first double-figure Zambezi Tiger, a beautiful fish of about 12 pounds. Unfortunately, we ran out of time and had to start the trip back to the lodge before it got dark.

The next day we headed straight back to the spot and with the same tactics hooked four fish and landed two, all over 10 pounds, the biggest weighing in at 14 pounds. It turned into one of my most memorable trips, not so much for the fish I caught but for implementing a plan and it paying off in the end.

The Zambezi remains one of my favourite fishing destinations, it’s one of the few freshwater destinations on earth where your chances of landing a ten-pound fish on fly are very good, and doing it in some of the most beautiful scenery around is the added bonus. By no means have I cracked the code on those monster Zambezi Tigers, I haven’t even scratched the surface but if there is one piece of advice I can offer to the excited angler stepping on to its shores for the first time… slow things down, be patient, focus, and be deliberate at what you are doing and you will be rewarded handsomely.

The Great Rift

Bureaucrats in possession of a little power are not to be challenged and I really should know better. But in todays digital age, travelling on a valid passport and to be blocked at immigration just because there’s not enough space to rubber stamp defies rationale. This was my first obstacle in getting to fish in Northern Zambia, which by re-routing via Jhb I managed to overcome.

The second was as unbelievable as it was hair raising.

After enjoying our evening meal at Nkamba Bay, perched on the hillside over looking the fishing grounds that lay in wait, I sauntered back to my room. The shrieking of what I thought were Baboon on the roof didn’t alarm me, but the shaking sundeck underfoot and sudden thundering noise confused my slightly dull senses and the sight of giant Warthog baring down on me had my flight mode on autopilot.

 

You don’t expect to find two Tons of charging Hippo, 50ft up on a sundeck overlooking a lake, so understandably I was running before I had processed the information. The screams from everyone at the dinner table fueled my panic stricken stride and I very nearly soiled the trail I was blazing. My salvation lay in a flimsy bush behind which was a light-post. Not wanting my final inglorious moments to be the surprise of carving incisors from behind, I pirouetted around the pole in what the audience later agreed could have me gracing the stage of any sleazy strip club on the continent.

10 meters away two bull Hippos were engaged in a bloody battle for mating rights…totally ignoring my Flashdance impersonation. Had I left the table 30 seconds earlier, my epitaph would been an amusing anecdote. Seeing up far too close and personal the damage that this beast can inflict and the breathtaking speed at which it all happened had my senses on full alert for the rest of our adventure.
Exploring a lake that is millions of years old, forged by tectonic upheaval is challenging, especially when this particular fissure drops to a depth of nearly a mile.You could be forgiven for thinking you were on a tropical island as the sun presents the colour of the water. The clarity is staggering and the sheer depth of vision skews perception.

It happens to be the world’s longest lake and with just under 33 thousand square kilometers of water to fathom, how on earth do you find the fish? But at an average water temperature of 25 celcius, life thrives in kaleidoscope and Lake Tanganyika is home to an incredible 400 species of fish.

It’s as a confusing fishery as you’re likely to find on our planet with it’s inhabitants largely unknown except to ichthyologists…..so we stopped guessing at the identity of the juveniles and stripped deeper water, to tempt the bigger predators.

Jeremy hadn’t even got into rhythm, when the grandaddy of the Lates family decided to test his resolve.

You’re sight fishing at a depth of 6 meters, and wind permitting, seeing every nook and cranny of the underwater shelves…it is guaranteed to ignite idle fly fishing minds. I readily took up the gauntlet and put my ridiculed patterns to the test, which didn’t have to wait too long for some attention from one of the most prolific species in these ancient waters.

The Nkupi is the King of all Chiclids, growing larger than it’s cousin the Peacock Bass and it displays all of the worthy fighting characteristics that it’s renowned for.
Targeting any fish on the surface is trumps, which is usually reserved for low light conditions and Jer’s popping action soon had patrolling fish hopping.The Nkupi or Emporer Chiclid is not a shy specimen and similar to kingfish will go out of it’s way to chase down the action

This lake is the proverbial lucky packet, you’re  never really sure what you’ve got tugging on your line until it comes into view. Not knowing what you’ve got rivals the expectation on a blind date…but it can also mirror the disappointment, as the chiclids will snack on flies half their body size

Fishing without trace wire, in system that houses the Goliath Tiger fish is a little like practicing unsafe sex……no matter how slim the chances are, it’s can all end in tears. As Jeremy found out, courtesy of the African Tiger fish that also inhabits this water

Once bitten………so, we strapped up and started to strip like our next meal depended on it. You expect to lose tigers due to their hard palette, not that it was any easier to swallow when the next 3 sorted us out. Being such an elusive fish in the depths of this fresh sea of water, I felt very lucky to eventually have one stick.

Over the next couple of days, we were torn between enjoying the frequent smaller Nkupi action in the shallow water versus trying to dredge for a big Perch. Storm clouds continually brewed and it blew in from every direction, making for difficult drifts. Despite the tumultuous weather, everyday enjoyed some sun and we managed to notch up a few fish, but we certainly worked for them.
The Last day of any fishing trip is as predictable as it is surprising. The shock of the last few fishing hours left is overcome by fierce resolution, bolstering your conviction that the big one awaits.

Jeremy was by this stage in the zone, slowly drawing his line up over the sandy substrate when the words I had been waiting to hear were tersely uttered….’Good Fish!’

There’s something about seeing a good fish landed that puts a little spark in your application and injects some venom into your cast.

Reigning in my impatience I was to follow suit, albeit in a smaller weight category.

Having such diverse fishing in a single lake is remarkable and in this fresh water sanctuary of Nkamba Bay and the Nsumbu National Park, you rarely see another single soul when exploring this beautiful wilderness area. It’s not for the feint hearted on fly but it’s an absolute jewel and a fishing resource that needs to be protected by all recreational anglers.

Situ Island Resort

With all the traveling we get to do in the course of filming the Inside Angling TV series, we visit a lot of lodges, hotels and resorts around Africa and the Indian Ocean islands. Every now and then we come across a rare little gem, a place that is different and has something special going for it. Recently, we enjoyed a direct flight from Johannesburg to Pemba on Airlink and visited Situ Island in the Quirimbas Archipelago in Northern Mozambique, which we found it to be exactly one of these little gems.

Our first impression on arrival was of a hidden private place, set right on the beach. The sandstone outcrops in the water in front of and around the lodge provide for beautiful scenery, and the buildings blend in with the vegetation of the island.

We were welcomed into the main building, where we encountered a relaxed atmosphere and simple, yet comfortable furnishings. The floor is beach sand, so you take off your sandals and don’t use them again until you leave. The ultimate in barefoot luxury.

The bar is a ‘help yourself’ honesty version, where you pour your own drinks and write down what you’ve taken in a book. There is an iced water machine in the lounge, where you are able to help yourself to as much chilled water as you like, something that’s unusual in the tropics! There is a small staff compliment and the whole place has an intimate feel, very different to most commercial lodges.

Situ is run by Craig and Tessa Macdonald, a South African couple from East London, who are passionate about Situ Island and its surrounds. Craig skippered us on our fishing excursions, and kept us entertained with his quirky sense of humour, then got straight into the kitchen whenever we arrived back at the lodge and started putting together delicious meals. He is a chef of note and as passionate about good food as he is about the island. Tessa runs the diving, snorkeling, kayak paddling and other activities and is very involved with, and knowledgeable about the environment and creatures of Situ. One of the more remarkable things she does is hand feed the Moray Eels on the reef in front of the lodge on the low tide, where they come swarming out and surround her as she hands out tasty tit bits.

Everything about Situ is relaxing. The staff keep a low profile, but are never far away if you need them. Craig and Tessa were helpful and nothing was too much trouble for them, they were very happy for us to set the pace and customize our own schedule each day, their flexibility made it easy for us to relax and appreciate this piece of paradise.

Meals at Situ were nothing short of outstanding. They buy seafood fresh from the locals and we were served delicious fresh seafood daily, complimented by loads of fresh salads, homemade sauces, pickled fish and of course the most finger licking good Mozambican chicken. In fact the food alone is enough of a reason to visit Situ!

There are plenty of reefs in the area and one doesn’t need to travel very far to get to fishing spots. Species that we came across included Gt’s, Bluefin Kingfish, Bigeye Kingfish, Amberjack, Dogtooth Tuna, King Mackerel, Green Jobfish and Pickhandle Barracuda. There were also plenty of Yellowfin Tuna about and we saw Sailfish jumping, though we didn’t target those species. Broadbill Swordfish are also targeted at night near Situ, so the fishing potential is excellent.

What really excited me was the form of the reefs. There is incredible structure, with some huge steps, ledges and walls under the water. The potential for fishing amongst such structure is exceptional.

I have tucked Situ Island Resort into my personal portfolio of places I would love to get back to again soon.

Just hope it isn’t too long before I do.

Gkhui Gkhui and the Magic of the Karoo

It was mid-November and I was heading south to one of my favorite locations… As the last bit of concrete and steel from South Africa’s judicial capital disappeared in my rearview mirror and the horizon lit up with dancing illusions on the salt pans of the Great Karoo my mind drifted back to the places I’ve visited in the last 12 months. I was lucky enough to see some amazing and breathtakingly beautiful places but none quite like the Karoo.

There’s something about this semi-desert region of Southern Africa with its long narrow roads and vast plains of emptiness that I find alluring. It’s difficult to describe, probably because there isn’t much to describe, but the Karoo just feels right to me and every time I go back I get a familiar, coming home, feeling. This time the Karoo was going to be home for at least a week, as we got invited by Chris van der Post and his family to film an episode of the WildFly fishing series at their lodge on the banks of the Orange River. Gkhui Gkhui River Lodge is a brand new fly fishing and hunting lodge that was built early in 2017. The luxury accommodation is situated 20 minutes outside Hopetown, around some of the best Yellowfish waters I have come across.

 

When we first walked down the pathway towards the main entrance of the lodge my expectations were already exceeded and like the first couple bars of a catchy song I could tell the rest was going to be good. We were greeted by Chris and his friendly staff who were waiting to serve us lunch and the start of what was to be an unforgettable dining experience. No kidding, the food was unbelievable as Chris’s wife and sister-in-law cooked up traditional “boerekos” with a modern day twist, think Bobby Flay born on a farm somewhere in the Free State.

With stomachs filled we set out for an afternoon session on the river. As luck would have it we timed it perfectly, timing plays a big role on this particular stretch of the Orange River. With Vanderkloof Dam 45 minutes upstream, the river rises a considerable amount when they let out water at the dam wall for the purpose of generating electricity. Around mid-morning, the water rises and then starts to drop again late afternoon. Chris explained to us how the fishing really comes on when the water levels start to drop.

My game plan for this particular trip was to do a lot of sight fishing to Smallmouth and Largemouth Yellows and where possible present big dry flies to see if I could peak the interest of any golden resident. Unfortunately, due to dam upstream being low, coming out of a major drought the water color wasn’t its usual emerald green and slightly murky but clearing as the levels dropped. I stuck to the plan though and rigged up a dry- dropper rig to fish the waters around the lodge and the plan paid off. I even convinced a juvenile largie to eat the dropper nymph in the very first session.

Part of our mission was also to target some Largemouth yellows and the next day we did a few drifts, looking for some big largies. I started off with a solid take on large streamer I was stripping through some flooded weed, the fish didn’t stay on for long however and then it went quiet. Now I’ve done enough largie fishing to know that it’s just par for the course but when the wind picked up later in the afternoon bringing with it some dubious looking clouds we made a collective decision to focus on the smallmouth yellows, targeting them on dries. I would have to go back another time, hopefully with some better conditions to bag the elusive one.

So the next 3 days we spent searching for yellows who would rise to the surface to eat our dry fly presentations. Chris who knows this stretch of the Orange River like the back of his hand would move between upstream and downstream spots to accommodate the high water levels and ensure we fish the most productive waters at the right time. What followed was the best dry fly fishing I have experienced in quite some time. We would walk in pairs and spot fish in pocket water, one angler would line up the cast as the other kept eyes on the fish, a short cast with a slight plop of the fly would do the trick as we stood and watched every fish slowly rise to investigate. We had some refusals, some missed takes and also dropped one or two good fish but we also managed to land some good smallmouth and capture a few of the best dry fly eats I’ve seen on film.

On our final day the foul weather finally set in, we woke up to a miserable drizzle and wind that would later pick up to 20 knots. Now, what’s a fly fishing trip without bad weather…? I wasn’t too bothered though, we had some amazing fishing the day before and finished off the show with some good footage that we can string together for what in my opinion will be a great episode and something completely different. It was decided that we would stick around and fish a small branched off stream in front of the lodge which so happens to be fairly sheltered from windy conditions if they do occur. My good friend Richard put the camera down for a couple of hours and got behind the rod. We noticed some fish rising so I tied on a large beetle. Rich made a cast towards the rising fish making sure to plop the fly at the end of the cast. Sure thing the fish came up to see what the ruckus was and in the same breath sipped down the beetle like it was a dry martini. With high fives and hero shots out of the way I pulled out my little point and shoot camera and we took turns at filming and fishing for these eager yellows and ended the short session with 6 smallies on dry and some crazy takes on camera which I will be editing into a little behind the scenes vlog episode, so stay tuned.

On the whole, it was another adventure for the books and it just reaffirmed my stance that the Orange River is a world-class fly fishing destination, and Gkhui Gkhui lodge is the complete package for anglers looking to experience the best that the Orange River has to offer. With experienced fishing guides, luxury accommodation and excellent catering it’s worth booking your next fishing adventure with Gkhui Ghkui River Lodge.

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